PATS REPORTER

For Patriots rookie running back J.J. Taylor, 'hide and seek' a path to production

PATS REPORTER

FOXBORO -- When Ivan Fears called J.J. Taylor "little Dion" earlier this summer, it raised eyebrows. Invoking the name of one of the most dynamic backs the Patriots have had on their roster over the last decade, Dion Lewis, seemed like high praise for an undrafted rookie who'd yet to perform in a live situation.

Taylor got his first crack at real contact against the Dolphins and made the most of it. He only played six snaps, but he saw four carries -- two on back-to-back plays that looked like the same exact call -- and picked up 28 yards. He ran for two first downs and picked up over half his yards (15) after contact. 

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He ran hard. He initiated contact. And he provided a dominant Patriots rushing attack with a shot of speed in his brief pro debut. He also caught a pass for four yards, building on the positive moments he'd flashed as a receiver in training camp. 

That Dion Lewis comp? It's only been one week, but it doesn't seem outlandish after what the 5-foot-6, 185-pound back did versus Miami.

"About what I hoped for and actually what I expected," Fears said Wednesday. "The guy is a pretty good player, really a good runner. He's sort of fits into that mold of small backs like (Darren) Sproles and those guys that've been successful. 

"But it's early. It really is early to tag any kind of title on him or anything like that. But I tell you what, we're really happy to have him out there. The guy is busting his butt. I'm happy with that."

 
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Taylor hasn't quite flashed the ankle-twisting ability that Lewis put on display week after week in 2015 before tearing his ACL in the middle of that season. But he showed he was capable of those types of moves in college. And if his carries are limited again in Week 2 out in Seattle, he may still have a chance to show off his talents as a kick-returner; the Patriots used him in that special-teams role last weekend.

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If carries do come Taylor's way in greater numbers, Fears seemed confident that he'd produce. 

"Well, let's put it this way. He can play hide and seek really well with the guys," Fears said. "He's really hard to find. It's something that -- there are things that could happen. Who knows? Size could be an advantage for him. You never know. But we love what he's doing. The guy plays big for his size."  

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The Patriots escaped Week 1 looking relatively healthy. Sony Michel carried 10 times and averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry but got into the end zone. Rex Burkhead looked quick early on, rushing for 32 total yards on seven attempts. James White was more than just a receiver against the Dolphins, running four times for 20 yards. 

That kind of depth -- and Damien Harris could be off injured reserve as early as Week 4 -- may make it hard to make the kind of Year 1 impact Lewis made in New England five years ago. But he's off to a good start.